Friday, January 18, 2019

Credibility Determinations Supported Murder Cross Reference

USv. Slager: Slager was a police officer in Charleston, South Carolina, who stopped a motorist, Walter Scott. Scott fled on foot, was caught by Slager, and then, as he began to run away again, was shot in the back five times by Slager. Scott died. Slager pleaded guilty to violating Scott’s civil rights. At sentencing, the parties contested whether the proper Guideline cross reference was to second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. Slager argued that Scott provoked him and thus he did not act with malice. After hearing testimony from witnesses, Slager, and viewing video of the incident, the district court imposed the murder cross-reference and sentenced Slager to 240 months in prison.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed Slager’s sentence on appeal. Slager reiterated his argument that when he shot Scott he had been provoked because Scott had punched him and was “on top of me at some point.” The court rejected that argument, finding that the district court had not abused its discretion by concluding that Slager’s version of the incident was not credible (he had, by the time of sentencing, given several different versions of what happened). “The record,” the court concluded, “amply supports that credibility determination.” Nor did the district court “reversibly err” by not crediting the testimony of Slager’s expert witnesses. Based on those credibility determinations there was no error in the district court finding malice and imposing the murder cross reference. The court also held that the district court had not plainly erred by enhancing Slager’s sentence for obstruction of justice based on unsworn false statements he made to state investigators.

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